This is the blog for Dream of Italy™, The Insider's Guide to Undiscovered Italy, a paid subscription travel newsletter. Dream of Italy™ (www.dreamofitaly.com) has been recommended by USA TODAY, National Geographic Traveler, U.S. News & World Report and American Way. Editor Kathy McCabe has helped thousands of travelers get the most out of their visits to Italy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mystery Celebrity Wedding in Bellagio??

I knew my love for the New York Post gossip columns would come in handy sometime...

Gossip maven Cindy Adams reports that a notable American actor will be getting married in the next few days at the church in Bellagio, that lovely town on Lake Como.

According to Ms. Adams:

NOW, listen. A huge, large hotshot ce lebrity wedding may take place within the next few minutes. In Italy. Just a scrapbook away from George Clooney's Lake Como villa. At the church in Bellagio. Who it is, even I — the eyes, ears and mouth of the world — do not know. The thing's an even bigger secret than Where's Waldo or Osama. I only know that monsignors and bishoplets are running around acting important and hinting and winking. But saying nothing other than "It's a big American actor."

I leave the rest of the details to Us Weekly, People, Star, National Enquirer, Globe, "ET," "Access Hollywood," "Extra," Hello, OK!, InStyle, In Touch, Out of Touch, You Touch, I Touch, We All Touch, whatever . . .

Thursday, August 25, 2005

HBO's "ROME" Premieres This Sunday at 9 p.m.

From the HBO Web site:

The year is 52 B.C. Four hundred years after the founding of the Republic, Rome is the wealthiest city in the world, a cosmopolitan metropolis of one million people, epicenter of a sprawling empire. The Republic was founded on principles of shared power and fierce personal competition, never allowing one man to seize absolute control. But now, those foundations are crumbling, eaten away by corruption and excess. The ruling class has become extravagantly wealthy, with a precipitous decline in the old values of Spartan discipline and social unity. There is now a great chasm between the classes. Legal and political systems have weakened, and power has increasingly shifted to the military.

After eight years of war, Gaius Julius Caesar has completed his masterful conquest of Gaul, and is returning to Rome. He brings with him legions of battle-hardened, loyal men, unimaginable riches in slaves, gold and plunder, and a populist agenda for radical social change. The aristocracy is terrified, and threatens to prosecute him for war crimes if he enters Rome. The delicate balance of power lies in the Senate with Caesar's old friend, partner and mentor, Pompey Magnus.

Such is the situation when two soldiers of Caesar's 13th Legion, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, are ordered into the wilds of Gaul to retrieve their legion's stolen standard, the unifying symbol of Caesar's legion, setting off a chain of circumstances that will entwine them in pivotal events of ancient Rome. An intimate drama of love and betrayal, masters and slaves, and husbands and wives, ROME chronicles epic times that saw the fall of a Republic and the creation of an empire when it debuts SUNDAY, AUG. 28 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

A co-production between HBO and the BBC, ROME is one of the largest co-production deals ever by the BBC for an American series, and marks the first series co-production of the two networks. HBO and the BBC previously partnered on the 2001 miniseries "Band of Brothers," which won six Emmy® Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries.

"You rarely see onscreen the complexity and color that was ancient Rome," says co-creator, executive producer and writer Bruno Heller. "It has more in common with places like Mexico City and Calcutta than quiet white marble. Rome was brightly colored, a place of vibrant cruelty, full of energy, dynamism and chaotic filth. It was a merciless existence, dog-eat-dog, with a very small elite, and masses of poverty. We see the same problems today - crime, unemployment, disease, and pressure to preserve your place in a precarious society. There's the potential for social mobility, if you're smart.

"Human nature never changes," continues Heller, "and the great thing about the Romans, from a dramatic perspective, is that they're a people with the fetters taken completely off. They had no prosaic God telling them right from wrong and how to behave. It was a strictly personal morality, and whether or not an action is wrong would depend on whether people more powerful than you would approve. You were allowed to murder your neighbor or covet his wife if it didn't piss off the wrong person. Mercy was a weakness, cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honor, loyalty to yourself and your family."

ROME was shot throughout Italy, with Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "The World Is Not Enough") directing the first three episodes. Additional directors include Allen Coulter (HBO's "The Sopranos"), Julian Farino (HBO's "Entourage"), Jeremy Podeswa (HBO's "Carnivale"), Alan Poul (HBO's "Six Feet Under"), Mikael Salomon (HBO's "Band of Brothers"), Steve Shill (HBO's "The Wire"), Alan Taylor (HBO's "Deadwood") and Timothy Van Patten (HBO's "Sex and the City"). Among the actors starring in the first season are Kevin McKidd ("Kingdom of Heaven") as Lucius Vorenus, Ray Stevenson ("King Arthur") as Titus Pullo, Ciaran Hinds ("Road to Perdition") as Gaius Julius Caesar, Kenneth Cranham ("Gangster No. 1") as Pompey Magnus, Polly Walker ("Patriot Games") as Atia of the Julii, James Purefoy ("Vanity Fair") as Mark Antony, Tobias Menzies ("Foyle's War") as Marcus Junius Brutus, Lindsay Duncan ("Under the Tuscan Sun") as Servilia of the Junii, Indira Varma ("Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love") as Niobe, Max Pirkis ("Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") as Gaius Octavian and Kerry Condon ("Angela's Ashes") as Octavia of the Julii.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Joe Begs to Differ...About August in Rome

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you will be familiar with my friend Joe who feels passionately about Rome. He responds to my most recent post below:

The reason why it's a terrible idea to visit Rome in August is that there are no Romans in Rome. Who wants to go to Rome--or Paris or Munich--and only meet tourists? A city isn't buildings and monuments. It's people. Rome's LIVING cultural life--the arts and music--comes to a standstill. The dining scene withers in August because so many of the places close for all or part of August and that truly curtails your ability to do one of the best things in Rome: Find a remarkable place by accident.

Yes, the streets are quieter and you might actually try to drive (although why I don't know) and the hotels are actually affordable in August. But that's because Rome is a shell of itself in August. Going to Rome in August is like going to Vegas and claiming you've been to Rome because you stayed at Caesars Palace.

Might I suggest that if visitors want to experience Rome at a good time, they try November 1-December 15 or mid-January to late February. The Romans are there, the city's living culture is there. The restaurants are all open. The hotel rates are almost as good. The weather is wonderful (November/early Dec) or good (Jan/Feb). And Rome in these periods is almost as quiet as in August--except that it's the tourists, not the Romans, who are gone.

And if I have to chose to visit Rome when the tourists are gone or visit Rome when the Romans are gone, what do you think I'm gonna pick?

Point well taken Joe and that's why I am sharing it here. I guess I might say that if the only choice you have is to visit Rome in August, you can still get a flavor for the city, but not the best, as Joe says. Another great time to visit Rome -- February -- as I did this year. Rates are low and the city does belong to the Romans.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Olympics of Extra Cheese a.k.a. The World Pizza Championships

The Washington Post reports that Pizza Marketing Quarterly will run two tours to the April 2006 World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy (near Milan). Sign me up!!!!

Here are the details as reported by the Post:

The World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy, are like the Olympics of Extra Cheese. About 20 international teams will descend on this tiny resort spa town south of Milan on April 3-5. "You just wouldn't think that such excitement over food would exist," says Amanda Brandon, managing editor of PMQ Pizza Marketing Quarterly, which sponsors the U.S. Pizza Team, one of two American teams,"and it's not just the eating part, it's the sports part, too."

The competitors, who advance to the international event through national trials, compete in five categories: fastest pizza maker, largest dough stretch, freestyle pizza tossing and best pizza (traditional and gourmet).

PMQ Magazine has organized two tours -- one for the pizza obsessed, the other for those who want Italian sightseeing with their pie. On the former tour, guests travel with the team and attend the full roster of competitions, the highlight being the acrobatic pizza tossing, which is held at night at a disco. The itinerary includes a city tour and two nights in Milan; a day's excursion to Pisa; the final banquet dinner; and pizza samples. The latter tour visits Milan, Venice and Pisa and spends a day in Salsomaggiore for three of the pizza competitions. Cost for both tours is $2,500 per person double, including round-trip air from New York. Space is limited. Info: 662-234-5481,

If you don't want to travel en masse, the championships are free and open to the public (the gala requires an invitation). Salsomagigore has various lodging options, plus spa centers and upscale boutiques. For information on the area, plus details on the competition, see the town's tourism Web site at

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Lowdown on Visiting Italy in August

The entire city of Rome shuts down. It’s difficult to find a spot of empty sand on any beach. The heat is unbearable.

Although each of these statements is based on a grain of truth, these are some of the popular misconceptions about visiting the land of la dolce vita during the month of August, the most important vacation time of the year for Italians.

The average Italian citizen gets 42 days of vacation per year. Most Italians take at least a week or two off each August, and many are on vacation for the entire month. Businesses shut their doors for all or part of this vacation period. In fact, the productivity of the entire country takes a dive during the eighth month of the year. The Italian national statistics institute reports that production falls by approximately 50% in August and the volume on the national stock exchange reportedly diminishes by a third.

But just because Italians are on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t be. Here’s what August is really like:

It just might be one of the best times of the year to visit Rome. The streets are empty (half of the city’s population leaves town). All of the major sites are open. You’ll find many restaurants and shops still welcoming tourists, although most are closed for some portion of the month. If you ever wanted to drive in Rome, now is the time. Reservations at the city’s great hotel restaurants (see the January/February 2003 issue of Dream of Italy) are easy to come by. Because Rome is a major international capital, it must keep chugging along, even in August, but you can still enjoy it at a much slower pace.

Crowded beaches, yes, but a great time to visit inland towns. It might not be the ideal time to visit the beaches of Sicily and Sardinia, as many hotels are booked up as much as a year in advance. But this can be the ideal time to visit Italy’s inland hill towns, especially in the south. Southern Italians who left their villages for work in the north or even to move to the United States often return home in August.The streets come alive with summer festivals and the evening passeggiata (walk around town) is even more lively, and the weather in the hills is lovely.

Which brings me to the next point …

The heat? That depends on your definition of hot. For a visitor from Washington, D.C. (where the summer heat and humidity can truly be unbearable), Italy's typical August temperatures hovering at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit can be downright delightful comparatively. Your perception of Italy’s August weather all depends on where you are coming from. One way to ensure your comfort in case the temperatures shoot up is to make sure that your rental car and hotels have air conditioning.When all else fails, just take a siesta. In a sense, that is what the month of August is for all of Italy.

A final bit of advice, based on personal, frustrating experience. Don’t attempt to drive on any of Italy’s major highways, including the biggest, the A1, on any Saturday during August. Instead, flip on the television and watch as newscasters present special programming and live shots of the mass exodus of cars from the nation’s cities. Even if you can’t understand Italian, you will get the point that these traffic jams last for hours.You’ll be happy you’re not among those experiencing the August traffic nightmare.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Great Rates at Rome's Intercontinental

My mother and I were visiting Rome a few summers back, in August as a matter of fact. (August in Rome can actually be wonderful -- I'll post an article I wrote about the pros and cons of visiting Italy in August.) We were looking to try a new hotel and the Intercontinental Hotel de Ville was running a special summer promotion, so we stayed there.

The hotel's location can't be beat -- right next to the famous Hotel Hassler -- at the top of the Spanish Steps. The rooms were plush and luxurious. I'm happy to see that the Intercontinental is still offering summer deals. Visit before September 6th and you may pay as little as 199 euros per night! Ask for the "Luxury Escapes" rates.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Shopaholics Alert: New Outlet Center Opens in Tuscany

Valdichiana, the long-planned outlet shopping center located in Foiano, located 40 km south of Arezzo, opened on July 16th, creating another designer discount destination in Tuscany. The outlet village features 20,000 square miles of shopping in the “perfect Tuscan style,” as it was designed using architectural styles and materials that are distinctively Tuscan. In fact, this shopping village is actually organized like a small town, with a number of streets and piazzas, each with their own name. You can enter at the Porta Leopoldina on the Piazza Maggiore and stroll down the covered Via dei Portici, past such stores as Benetton, Zara, Calvin Klein, Basile, Swatch and dozens of other Italian and international designers.

To reach Valdichiana, exit the Autostrada A1 (which runs from Rome to Florence) at Valdichiana and follow the signs to Foiano. Or take the S.P. 237 (which runs from Siena to Perugia) and exit at Bettolle. The outlet village is 90 km south of Florence and 160 km north of Rome. Opening hours on Monday are from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, e-mail info@valdichianaoutlet.it or call (39) 0575 649926. -- Cailin Birch

The Single Girl's First Trip to Italy

The Washington Post travel section launched a new feature in yesterday's edition -- "Your Vacation in Lights," a place where travel section readers share what the details of their most recent trips. Well the inaugural contributor to this feature happens to be a friend of a friend -- Kerry Jo Richards. Her report -- "A Trip to Italy is a Single Girl's Best Friend" -- is a fun read and will definitely give you ideas for your next trip to Tuscany.